Actions Top His Speech: Bodies of Power in Marlowe's Tamburlaine The Great
Castro, Anne Margaret
Christopher Marlowe’s early modern hero, Tamburlaine, The Great is a totalitarian who appears to control every thing and every person on the world-stage with speech-acts. This paper argues that Tamburlaine, The Great Parts 1 and 2 in fact disprove the foundational tenets of the protagonist’s totalitarian fantasy by exposing the embodied reality behind the myth of performative speech. Tamburlaine’s tyrannical regime is haunted by the fact that every supposed speech-act does not just become reality through the magic of illocution. The plays use Tamburlaine’s overidentification as “the scourge and wrath of God” to reveal that each speech-act actually depends on a constellation of material bodies. Tamburlaine needs dead, objectified bodies to prove that his performative power is legitimate and he needs live bodies to consent to his commands. Marlowe’s plays show that the limits of the body are the true terms of a sovereign’s rule.